“There was once on a time an old goat who had seven little kids, and loved them with all the love of a mother for her children.”
A couple of surprises can be found in this tale, some more horrific than others.
The goat mother has to go out into the woods to gather some food for her and her seven kids. She warns them about a prowling wolf, one who has a “rough voice” and “black feet.” She tells them that he will try to gain entry to their home, but under no circumstance must they allow him to do so.
She leaves and of course, the mischievous wolf comes by and pretends to be the kids’ mother as it calls out. The little goats recognize the rough voice of the wolf and tell him to go away. The wolf then goes to a shopkeeper and purchases some chalk, which he swallows to disguise his voice. Returning to the goat home, the wolf asks again to enter, but he places his paws against a window and the goats recognize it – and once again tell him to leave them alone.
The wolf then goes to a baker and asks them to rub dough on his feet, after which he runs to the miller’s and demands that the miller put white meal over his feet to disguise their true look. “The miller thought to himself, ‘The wolf wants to deceive some one,’ and refused; but the wolf said, ‘If you will not do it, I will devour you.’ Then the miller was afraid, and made his paws white for him.”
Before continuing with the rest of the events of the tale, I want to pause on the fact that for the shopkeeper, baker, and even the miller, a wolf showing up for their goods is nothing to balk at. Or maybe, like the miller, the first two professionals were too afraid to firmly say no to the wolf and their protests were not deemed important enough to include in the narrative. Whatever the case, I love this about more detailed fairy tales: when a reader’s belief/acceptance of the reality of the tale is challenged a bit more while the main story line keeps progressing at a quick pace. I wanted to stop for a second to think about how the wolf’s appearance was received by the shopkeeper and the baker, and why the miller was the only one who considered the wolf’s intentions. But the pacing didn’t allow me to ponder to the point of disbelief and eye-rolling; instead I kept thinking about those poor kids.
And now that I’ve completed that detour, back to the story.
After the miller makes the wolf’s paws white, the wolf returns to the goat home and since he has disguised the two characteristics the kids were told to focus on, they let him inside. Discovering this deception, the little goats scramble for hiding places, but only one is able to stay hidden from the wolf. The others are unfortunately eaten, and the wolf meanders away.
The mother goat returns to the tragic scene, and the one surviving kid explains what happened. While this tale does end on a happier note for the goat family, we have to get past the next part first.
Then you may imagine how she wept over her poor children.
At length in her grief she went out, and the youngest kid ran with her. When they came to the meadow, there lay the wolf by the tree and snored so loud that the branches shook. She looked at him on every side and saw that something was moving and struggling in his gorged body. ‘Ah, heavens,’ said she, ‘is it possible that my poor children whom he has swallowed down for his supper, can be still alive?’
The youngest kid then runs home to “fetch scissors, and a needle and thread” so that the mother goat can cut open the wolf’s stomach. And what do you know! All six little goats come spilling out – alive and well since “in his greediness the monster had swallowed them down whole.”
To get her revenge, the goat mother has her kids collect multiple stones which are placed inside the wolf’s stomach. The mother sews him up and all the goats get out of sight. When the wolf wakes up, he discovers he is quite thirsty, so “he wanted to go to a well to drink. But when he began to walk and to move about, the stones in his stomach knocked against each other and rattled.” Before stooping down to drink, being outweighed by the stones and falling into the well (to drown), he cries:
What rumbles and tumbles
Against my poor bones?
I thought ’twas six kids,
But it’s naught but big stones.
A fun little rhyme to preface his death (in a communal well – health hazard, anyone?) after which the goats “dance for joy.” And so goes the tale of The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids.
- Notes on this story from Margaret Hunt, revered translator of the Grimm fairy tales.
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – 123: The Wolf and the Kids